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Computer Forensic Services, Inc. v. Green

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 10, 2013

Computer Forensic Services, Inc., Respondent,
v.
Benjamin Green, et al., defendants, counterclaimants and third party plaintiffs, Respondents,
v.
Mark Tracey Lanterman, third party defendant, Respondent, City of Minnetonka Police Department, third party defendant, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-11-17976

Dean A. LeDoux, Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondents Computer Forensic and Mark Lanterman)

Thomas A. Harder, Shawn M. Dobbins, Foley & Mansfield, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Kevin O'Connor Green, Law Offices of Kevin O'Connor Green, P.A., Mankato, Minnesota (for respondents Benjamin Green, et al)

Patricia Y. Beety, Ryan M. Zipf, League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Connolly, Judge; and Larkin, Judge.

CONNOLLY, Judge

Appellant, a city police department, moved for summary judgment dismissing respondents' claims against it, arguing that it is protected by vicarious official immunity because its detective and police officers were protected by official immunity when committing the acts on which respondents' claims were based. The district court denied appellant's motion on the ground that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. Because we conclude that no issues of fact are material and that the city is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we reverse the denial of appellant's motion and remand for entry of summary judgment dismissing the claims against it.

FACTS

Respondent Mark Lanterman is the founder of respondent Computer Forensic Services Inc. (CFS), an electronic discovery and forensic analysis firm. On August 25, 2011, a detective employed by appellant City of Minnetonka Police Department received a report from Lanterman that respondent Benjamin Green, a former CFS employee, had stolen trade secrets from CFS. After leaving CFS, Green had joined another former CFS employee, respondent Matthew Heinsch, who had founded respondent Mast Consulting LLC (Mast), which also engaged in electronic discovery and forensic analysis.[1]

After hearing Lanterman's report, the detective obtained a search warrant for Green's home. When he and other members of appellant executed the warrant, Green told him that he had no CFS property except some hardware items that CFS was discarding. After talking to Green, the detective called Lanterman from Green's house. Lanterman said he had not given Green permission to take any hardware items, including items that were being discarded, and that Green should not have any CFS property. Because Lanterman could not identify any missing CFS hardware items, no hardware items were seized from Green's home.

The detective and another officer then went to Heinsch's residence, an apartment. They found Heinsch outside, carrying a box of computer hard drives away from the building. Heinsch told the detectives that Green's wife had informed him of the search of Green's house, that he was carrying the box to the trunk of his car, and that the hard drives contained no CFS files but did contain some confidential material. Heinsch voluntarily surrendered his forensic work station and imaging drive for analysis. The detective took the work station (a laptop computer) and the imaging drive when Heinsch brought them out from his apartment, but did not take the box of hard drives Heinsch had been carrying because Heinsch was not a suspect and the detective, having no warrant, thought he lacked authority to do so.

On September 2, 2011, CFS brought an action against Green, Heinsch, and Mast, alleging breach of duty of loyalty against Green; conversion and breach of contract against Green and Heinsch; tortious interference with contract against Mast; and misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition against all three defendants. It is undisputed that CFS's lawsuit was based in part on the information about the criminal investigation provided to Lanterman by the detective.

Appellant later obtained a search warrant for the electronic evidence obtained from Green and Heinsch and concluded that the evidence did not ...


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